Last week, 13 HIV-positive children, all orphans living in a children’s home called Nitya Seva Niketan, were expelled from a school in Rivona village in South Goa following protests by parents of other students. The school is now under pressure to expel 23 other orphans living in the same children’s home, although they are not HIV-positive.
Meanwhile, the first group of 13 children, aged between 6 and 15 years, have been moved to a school in North Goa.
Speaking to The Indian Expresss, Sister Alphonsa Porathur, in charge of the church-run Nitya Seva Niketan, said although the HIV-positive children were enrolled at Our Lady of Fatima High School in Rivona last year, they did not attend classes. “We conducted their classes at the children’s home itself. They only appeared for the school exams and got their marksheets from the school,” she said.
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It was not just this school which showed them the door. After their expulsion, Porathur approached a boarding school run by Salesian priests in Sulcorna, 12 km from Rivona, on June 6. But after six days, this school too asked Porathur to withdraw the children, saying they were facing problems from some parents.
“We then discussed the matter with our church and decided to shift the 13 children to a school in North Goa. We decided not to disclose the name of the school. The remaining 23 non-HIV students remained at Our Lady of Fatima High School, which is just 300 metres from our children’s home,” said Porathur.
But when these children started attending classes, the parents of other students protested. They demanded that these children too should be expelled, claiming that they could put their wards at risk. The parents of four students even sought to withdraw their wards from the school. When contacted, these parents refused to comment.
“We are caught in a situation where we have to follow the rules, and at the same time are concerned about our students and their parents. However, we have decided that we will not expel these 23 students,” said Father Jerry Vaz, headmaster of Our Lady of Fatima School.
“We tried our best to allay their fears and explain that there is no risk to their wards. We also explained that in light of the recent Supreme Court order, students cannot be expelled on this ground. However, the 13 students had to be shifted to another school,” said Father Maverick Fernandes of the Archdiocesan Board of Education, Goa.
“It is time for the School Education Department and the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights to take a firm decision on this…I am taking up the issue in the Assembly as this incident should not become a precedent for other schools in the state and even in other states… The parents want us to give in writing that their children will not be HIV-positive in future. It is an unreasonable demand,” said Subhash Phal Dessai, BJP MLA from Sanguem.
Anil Powar, Director of Education, Goa, said they could not stop any parent from protesting or withdrawing their children from a school. “Our job was to instruct the school that they should follow the Supreme Court’s order and not deny admission to any HIV-positive student,” he said.
“We called a meeting of the school authorities, the nuns from the children’s home, and education department officials last Friday. We even conducted a public hearing of the panchayat of the village, parents and others. We have ensured that the 23 students will not be expelled. We will now submit a report to the state government stating that this mistake should not be repeated. The schools must keep the identity of the disadvantaged students confidential. They cannot deny them admission despite protests,” said Sameera Qazi, chairperson of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Goa.
In March, the Supreme Court had issued notices to the central and state governments following a petition against discrimination of HIV-positive children in schools.